"Well, it's been so long, and I've been putting out the fires with gasoline, putting out the fires... with gasoline!" Ah, now that is one addictive song, at least in this film, because no matter how groovy Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar solos were, the "Let's Dance" re-recording was a little too uneven for my taste. Shoot, I don't know if the original version is that much less disjointed, at least in the context of the film, because it is so '80s that it took a lot of inspiration from the goth scene and still sounded a touch too upbeat for a horror film. Well, to be fair, the original from 1942 was by no means all that scary, and at any rate, just how horrifying can an erotic thriller starring Nastassja Kinski possibly be, fellas? Well, as misfortune would have it, the lovely Miss Kinski had finally decided to try out that blasted boyish haircut that was all the rage with accidental transvestites-I mean, women back in the '80s just in time to do this film, and besides, she's almost as skinny in this film as the snake that was wrapped around her the year before. ...Nah, she's still pretty hot, but she wasn't quite the bombshell she usually was, which is a shame, because "when else would we have had the opportunity to see Nastassja Kinski naked while in her prime"? I joke, but apparently a naked Nastassja wasn't exactly selling "Stay as You Are", probably because people were too creeped out by the fact that she was 17 when she did the film, so you can see the irony in the fact that she was well into the age range the creepy people were waiting for in this film, yet the project turned out to be a thriller that's actively trying to be creepy. Well, it's not like this thriller is all that effective, for although it gets your attention on more than a few occasions with something, its "fire" gets worn down by more than just... gasoline (It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that's still a funky tune).
More so than the 1942 "original", as irony would have it, this film has some unique elements to its story concept, yet those refreshing beats often go betrayed by formulaic areas in the telling of this tale that would perhaps be easier to forgive if some of the more familiar attributes didn't involve some '80s overstylization. Now, this film isn't quite that overstylized as a run-of-mill project of the 1980s, but it still gets to be a bit too fluffy for its own good, especially considering that it's supposed to be a horror film of some kind, and that waters down effectiveness, about as much as atmospheric spells that are more limp than fluffy. There's a certain meditativeness to this film inspired by a thriller that was itself inspired by noir elements, and also had less meat to meditate upon, yet that's not to say that this film is frequent with its own juicy material, because when material to meditate on runs out, the film limps out as kind of atmospherically cold, at least until relative atmospheric pick-ups kick in somewhat jarringly. Pacing is somewhat uneven in atmosphere alone, juggling meditative, maybe even cold spells and more briskly-paced, maybe even overly colorful spells, until the two-hour length becomes palpable, and more than it perhaps should be. There are certainly more layers to this drama than there were in the 1942 counterpart, but I can't help but feel as though those layers wouldn't be shifted around so unevenly if each section in this narrative wasn't so drawn out by draggy, repetitious material that has certain elements stay too long for their eventual exit to be organic, and after a while, starts to thin out focus to the point of rendering the film aimless. Pacing problems are subtle, but in the long run, they end up sinking their teeth pretty deeply into the compellingness of this film, draining juice and leaving you to soak up natural shortcomings, as well as other inconsistencies in pacing and uniqueness, until what you end up with is a meandering drama that holds plenty of potential, but just ends up kind of sputtering out as a bit underwhelming. That being said, while this film doesn't thrill too much, it compels a fair bit with something time and again, or at least entertains more often than not, particularly with its musical aspects.
Now, David Bowie's theme song for this film, "Putting Out Fire", isn't necessarily all that excellent, but it's both one of your better '80s original film songs and one of the Bowie's best efforts, and I can go on talking about how entertaining and dynamically structured it is, but it isn't really played up until the credits, and before that, the musical integrity of this stylish film rests solely on the shoulders of Giorgio Moroder, whose score has its cheesily overstylized moments, but is generally pretty entertaining with its style, particularly when it goes controlled enough by haunting atmosphere to serve as an effective compliment to tone. This thriller is both very '80s and very meditative, and the soundtrack, alone, breathes plenty of life into these themes, or at least keep things reasonably lively, but it's highlights in Paul Schrader's direction that really kick things up, as surely as it's the very directorial effort that really slows things down in plenty of areas. When Schrader's atmospheric storytelling isn't all that realized, the film simply limps out, and sometimes even goes the opposite route and becomes too fluffy to be all that thrilling, but Schrader's missteps are light, and when the strengths kick in, they really do work on a certain level, meditating upon meaty areas in material in a way that inspires a subtle degree of engagement value which often goes a good distance in drawing tension, or at least enough intrigue to entertain, and therefore draw a fair bit of your attention toward the potential of this story that goes betrayed in plenty of places by storytelling hiccups. Sure, the execution of this story concept has its formulaic spots, but if you step back and look at this subject matter, while it's not that unique, this loose interpretation of DeWitt Bodeen's story concept for the 1942 "classic" is genuinely refreshing in plenty of places, taking audacious thematic and tonal approaches to intriguing subject matter with a certain ambiguity that makes the mystery elements which kept the original going in a lot of ways even more biting. Now, there are natural limitations to kick in this story concept, and enough to play a bit role in holding the film all the way back as, not simply shy of strong, but decidedly quite underwhelming, at least when backed by uneven storytelling, but there is still a decent bit of potential here, and when it's sold, it's hard to not be engaged, whether justice is being done by the aforementioned highlights in Schrader's direction, or by inspired acting. There isn't a whole lot for this talented cast to work with, but the performers play their parts quite well, and that especially goes for some of the more primary players, such as Malcolm McDowell, - who proves to be disturbingly convincing as a dangerously unpredictable and maybe even deviant man with dark secrets - as well as the beautiful Nastassja Kinski, whose subtle, even human emotional layers sell the confusion and fear of a woman who begins to tap into dark areas of her bloodline, and face some serious dangers along the way. There are quite a few strengths, but not a lot of them hit all that hard, so the missteps are brought to light enough to water down the memorability of this thriller, yet there is still enough inspiration to style and substance, backed by commendable performances off of and on the screen, to make the final product endearing, if held back.
When the fire is finally put out... apparently with gasoline (Ah, get out of my head, David Bowie!), kick goes too doused by formulaic areas, unevenness in pacing and focus, and aimlessness for the final product to escape underwhelmingness, but there is still enough style to score work, effectiveness to direction, intrigue to the story concept, and inspiration to Malcolm McDowell's and Nastassja Kinski's performances for Paul Schrader's "Cat People" to stand as a reasonably entertaining, if not tense erotic thriller, even if it stands to have more fi-...spark (I've "burnt" that song reference out at this point).
2.5/5 - Fair